Author and expert on eccentric Britain Ben le Vay nominates the Cambridge events you must attend
10-12 January, 2014
A gruesome figure of a straw bear, followed by sword dancers, cavorts through the streets, ending with burning the bear on the Saturday night. The date is determined following a suitably eccentric formula: Friday and Saturday before Plough Monday, which is first Monday after Twelfth Night, which is 12 days after Christmas.
Originally a farmworkers' race to win a contract to plough fields, this three-mile race across muddy fields to the Chestnut Horse pub is still held annually, but for fun. A scroll still has to be carried across the pub threshold, but these days it's an inter-village battle between Gt Finborough and Haughley that ends in a very messy egg-throwing competition.
First May Bank Holiday
Reach Fair is considerably older than many countries on the planet, having been granted a charter by King John in 1201 and held for more than 800 years since. It's a good old village fun-fair, enlivened somewhat by the Mayor of Cambridge and his aldermen turning up in full regalia to toss newly-minted pennies for the local urchins. Lots of fun, despite the fact that the value of a penny has been somewhat eroded since 1201.
First Saturday in June
The strawberry fair starts with a parade from Christ's Pieces through the town to the site on Midsummer Common. It's a voluntary hippie-era concept, a live music event and free to attend, with crafts and new age nick-nacks, druids and tepees. A StrawberryShorts film festival has been added to make it a bit more arty, the top prize being the Fraise D'Or.
Second Saturday in July
Held on the village green, contestants fire a pea (by blowing it) down a 12-inch tube 12 feet towards a 12-inch target. Some entrants have sights fitted to their tubes and even – really, I have seen them – laser sights.
Ben le Vay's book, Eccentric Cambridge, is a practical guide to the quirky and bizarre side of this world famous university town. He has also written guides to Eccentric Britain, Eccentric Oxford and Eccentric London. For more information visit the Bradt website, or order your copy now on Amazon.